Socialist Worker

Uprising in Bolivia: 'Prepare for street battles'

Issue No. 1874

REPORTS FROM the radical news agency Econoticias tell the story of last weekend: Thursday At least a quarter of a million workers and people from almost all the lower class neighbourhoods of El Alto and La Paz have surrounded the government palace. They have given the most hated man in the history of the country, the millionaire president Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozado, a last chance to resign and flee Bolivia.

In the Plaza San Francisco the mass agreed to extend social mobilisation throughout the country and instructed people to prepare themselves for street fighting against tanks and machine guns.

'Dig trenches in each neighbourhood in each block. Set up self defence pickets,' says the miner Jaime Solares, leader of the Bolivian Workers Centre (COB). The slogans of the mass of people are more radical than yesterday. 'Ahora s', guerra civil, ahora s', guerra civil' ('Now yes, civil war'), chant men, women, old people and children, waving thousands and thousands of clubs.

In the city centre are the miners, the coca growers, the peasants from the south, the students, the teachers, the pensioners, the stallholders, the young people-very many young people. In some streets there are clashes, teargas, barricades and burning tyres. There are people suffering from gas attacks and some bleeding. In other streets, coca growers and local people share bread and soft drinks with police. This is the popular uprising, many-faceted, contradictory.

In the more middle class neighbourhoods they are also calling for the resignation of the president, with vigils at the churches. 'We cannot accept that people continue to get killed. We want work to resume and the only solution is for the president to go,' says one of leaders of these protests. They also fear that the civil uprising will be transformed into a social revolution.

Friday The leaders of the neo-liberal political parties that control two thirds of the Bolivian parliament are trying to regain what they have lost in the streets. They want to prepare a constitutional way out. The streets of the cities and the roads of the country as a whole are dominated by workers and the poor. This is the real power that is dictating to the formal power.

The stone and the club have defeated the tank and the machine gun. But among the leaders there are doubts and debates over whether or not to accept Carlos Mesa, at least temporarily. In the Plaza San Francisco, four blocks from the Congress, thousands of miners, dynamite in their hands, receive ovations from the crowd.

Saturday The president has fled to Miami. The troops have left the streets. Celebrating miners, cocaleros and peasants are returning home. Their leaders say they will not back the new government, but give it time.


How workers have fought here before

BOLIVIA borders other countries in social turmoil, Argentina, Peru and Paraguay, as well as Chile

1530s: Bolivia was the southern portion of the Inca Empire conquered by Spain. Settlers carved out huge landed estates and controlled the world's biggest silver mine, worked by forced Indian labour.

1820s: Independence won from Spain, but Spanish-speaking elite still denies rights to indigenous majority of population.

1880s: Discovery of world's biggest sources of tin. Immense riches for handful of top families. Life expectancy of Indian miners only 35.

1920s: Concentrated together the miners show their strength in big strikes that are harshly repressed. They become spearhead for revolt after revolt against the ruling elite.

1952: Revolution. Miners march on La Paz and disarm army. Establishment of workers militias, workers' control of the mines and division of the big landed estates among the peasantry. But miners' leaders agree to leave power in hands of middle class nationalist politicians. Reforms tailored to needs of local business class.

1960s: Army disarms the miners, massacres strikers and occupies the mining areas militarily. Military dictatorships become the norm.

1969-71: New wave of workers struggles with general strikes. A popular assembly briefly begins to challenge the established institutions of the state. Leaders repeat the mistake of

1952 by putting their faith in middle class politicians.

1970s: Coup by General Banzer followed by vicious repression.

1982: General strike brings the country close to civil war. The military abandon power. Left of centre nationalists win elections. They follow neo-liberal course, halving the number of mining jobs.

2000: Privatisation of water provokes massive revolt in Cochabamba. Victory after demonstrations and road blockages bring country to a halt.

2002: Eva Morales, leader of cocaleros protests, comes close to beating mining millionaire Sanchez de Lozada in presidential election.

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